What I Read Last Week: The Pillars of the Earth

Some words I’d read to describe The Pillars of the Earth were epic and compelling. A great adventure story! Not once did I hear it described as tripe. That’s my word for it. This book was awful.

It came highly recommended to me by several people who know me well and have similar taste in books to my own. It was an honest assumption that this would be a great book for me. The novel is about the building of a cathedral in the middle ages. I’m a history buff with a great appreciation for architecture. Having recently been to London and Barcelona, where we’d toured and wandered among many great cathedrals, I though this would make great follow-up reading after our vacation. It wasn’t.

It read like a high school history textbook, a paperback romance and the the Brothers Grimm all got together for some kind of literary orgy. I’ll be honest with you here, I’ve never actually been part of a naughty romp with multiple participants, but I can only imagine that it would be awkward and more about logistics than anything else. That’s one of the problems I had with this book. It was trying to do too many things at once. Most of the story felt more like a history lecture with the characters only existing to illustrate the events taking place. Every now and then it would switch gears and become a bodice ripper (or tunic ripper, as was the fashion of that age). There was no shortage of quivering loins and other romantic clichés here. Finally, and this is a bit of a spoiler – good triumphs over evil and everyone lives happily ever after. At least as happy as you can be with Catholic oppression and rampant plague looming in your future.

There were a few moments where I considered setting this book aside, but I kept going, waiting for the awesome to happen. Could there be a shocking twist in the last chapter? For years, I didn’t really understand the movie The Usual Suspects because I fell asleep 10 minutes before the end. I finally saw it years later and learned a valuable lesson about sticking it out until the end of a slow moving plot. Nothing surprising happened at the end of Pillars of the Earth though. It was as predictable as it was long, right up until the final page.

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